Russian director Alexei German, who made just a handful of films but influenced a generation of directors with hard-hitting dramas portraying the Stalin era and World War II, died Thursday, his son said. He was 74.
"Today my father died without regaining consciousness... his heart simply stopped," the director's son, also a film director, Alexei German Jr wrote in a statement posted on the Moscow Echo radio station's website.
German was born in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, the son of a novelist and screenwriter. He made his films at the city's Lenfilm studio, which he recently defended from closure.
During a 30-year career, the non-conformist director completed just five films (four as sole director), but his sombre, brutally honest style was hugely influential to a generation of directors.
"He was unique," said fellow Saint Petersburg director Alexander Sokurov, the maker of the famed masterpiece "The Russian Ark" and a string of prize-winning pictures, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
"What else could I say about the artistic talent of such a man?" said Sokurov.
"Alexei German was a sacred monster of Soviet and Russian cinema, the last inheritor and representative of a Soviet elite culture," said film critic Mikhail Trofimenkov.
"His death is the end of an era."
"He was a director who managed to create his own aesthetic, to combine the memory of an individual with the memory of the nation."
German's debut as a solo director was a drama about WWII partisans, "Trial on the Road" that was censored by the Soviets because of its unvarnished portrayal of the partisans and Soviet POWs.
Though made in 1971 it was not released until 1985 during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika era.
"They put me and "Trial" on the shelf and said: Come back to work in three years. No one would give me a job even in (the Arctic circle city of) Norilsk," German remembered in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily in 2002.
"The film just lay there for 15 years."
His next film "Twenty Days Without War", filmed in 1976, was initially also blocked by film officials, who only released it after its scriptwriter, the lauded Soviet writer Konstantin Simonov, intervened, German told Trud newspaper in 2005.
His last completed film, "Khrustalyov, My Car!" from 1998 told the story of a medic convicted in the so-called Doctors' Plot, an alleged conspiracy to kill Soviet leadership dreamt up by Stalin in his dotage.
At the time of his death, German was completing a film based on a fantasy novel called "It's Hard to be a God," a project that he had begun in 1998 but struggled to finish due to financial, technical and health problems.
"I've got serious heart problems and it has become difficult to work actively. Before I always worked extra hours, doing 12-hour days, now I can't do this," German said in a 2011 interview with Saint Petersburg news website 812 Online.
His son vowed Thursday that the film based on the novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky would be finished in the "foreseeable future."
"The film 'It's Hard to be a God' is practically finished. All that's left is re-recording the sound. The rest is ready. My father shot this film when he was already seriously ill, sacrificing his life for it."
The final film was "the main work of his life," his son said.
"My father lived his life in a worthy way. He did not betray his ideals. He did not sell himself. He did not waste himself on nonsense," he added.
German was hospitalised in November last year after falling in his apartment and later contracted pneumonia and German will be buried Sunday in Saint Petersburg's Bogoslovskoye cemetery, the Lenfilm press service told Interfax.
President Vladimir Putin was among those who expressed their condolences to his family.